Saturday, September 23, 2017

Observation of Other Cities and Cycling: Chicago and LA

Bike shop in Pilsen, Chicago.

Follow me and I'll show you where the real road warriors roll

Took time to follow my favorite band around the US last week.  As usual, a short tour, just two dates, but both were held in iconic cities.  New Order played an 11 track set at Chicago's Riot Fest and then 3 days later headlined a gig at LA's famous Hollywood Bowl.  I was unable to bicycle from Friday to Wednesday but I spent a lot of time walking, taking planes, trains and buses and consequently viewed bicycle life in these cities.  Please note that I spent my time in very specific neighborhoods and did not have the full tour of either metro.  It was if I made a random inspection by dropping in a certain area of each city.

Sweet Home Chicago

Chicago was first.  I took the Megabus there and was picked up at the stop by two friends.  $30 one way ticket and I slept the entire journey.  The next day was the real adventure.  First thing we did in the morning was walk about 2 or 3 miles to a branch of the Illinois Currency Exchange and purchased a "Venture", refillable debit card that for $20 allowed me to take as many trains and buses I needed for 3 days.  We took the train all over Chicago.  That walk exposed me to a lot of the bicycle culture of the city.

We stayed in Pilsen, a neighborhood named after the Czech city.  Now it has a much spicier flavor. Our main road was 18th St.  There is a bicycle lane and many bike racks along the road.  Also, at least 2 bicycle shops along the way to the train station.


Near Douglas Park and Riot Fest.  A pair of Schwinns.  Step through "lady's frames" were popular.
A roadie on Carpenter.  Rack no bags  U-Lock through the front wheel.
One of the nicer single speeds.  Narrow bars and U-Lock through the front wheel.

The bicycles I saw were not toys.  The riders I saw were true road warriors.  One would have to be to ride in traffic.  The bicycle lanes were not protected.  The common color of the bicycles was black.  The common gearing was single.  Single speeds and mountain bikes from the 90s with a few heavy iron Schwinns from the 70s.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing flashy.  Nothing tempting to steal.  No fatbikes, no touring bikes and no cyclocross bikes.  Inexpensive lights and flashers if they had lights at all.  No generator hubs.  Few bikes had racks or baskets.  No $200 Surly racks.  No panniers or bags.  A lot of riders wore backpacks.  Fenders?  No.  Stereos on their bicycles?  No, the streets ain't no disco.  Helmets?  A few.  Jerseys and bicycle shorts?  Nope.  Safety vests?  Negative.  That's for construction workers and street crews.  One thing 99% had in common was U-Locks.  Big ones too to make sure the front wheel was secured when the bike was unattended.  I saw a number of bikes locked up missing wheels.

Popular bike rack style in Pilsen.

At a building of art studios near the old coal burning power plant near the river.  Pinkie is a single speed MTB, the middle one is a SS and the end is a older roadie.

Now this is not to say that other cycling does not occur in Chicago.  I have friends here that ride expensive bicycles and there are places to ride them around the city or out of the city.  But for the everyday bicycle trip one does not need such bikes.  Chicago is flat.  Also the possibility of theft increases with shiny expensive rides.  Hence, the black nondescript single speed or 7-speed bicycle with flat bars, short flat bars for that matter, is the steed of choice for urban riding.  Todd, our host in Pilsen, said that he recently sold his road bike because he never rode it.  He keeps two MTBs for his wife and himself.

Bike lane that goes over a steel bridge.  According to Todd some cyclist was killed by a car.  Since there was not a need for a four lane, bike lanes on both sides were painted in.

Even the bicycle shops seemed set up for this style.  We passed at least two and their windows displayed single speeds and track wheels.  I was happy to see the track wheels because that creates a market for the 60 mm presta stemmed tube that my commuter requires for my track wheels.

Another option for cycling in Chicago is their bike-share program, Divvy.  I saw a few of these stations in Pilsen.  Makes a lot of sense.  If you live and work near one of the 580 bicycle stations you can rent one of the 5800 bikes for commuting.  No more lugging a bike in and out, up and down the apartment.  Fenders and racks and locks included.  A faster way to get around town without the hassle of ownership.

Divvy bike share station in Pilsen near the currency exchange.


For longer trips one can bring their bicycle on the train during non-rush hours.  Two bikes per train car.  I never saw this but I read the signs.  Perhaps that's how one gets their roadie to the nice trails and countryside.  We did not do this.

But we did take the train to a few good sites in Chicago.  Colin asked, "How about a beer and a Polish sausage in Wrigleyville?" Why not?  First stop was at Millennium Park for a Starbucks and people watching then back on the train to get said beer and sausage at Murphy's Bleachers outside center field.  After that, and it was fun to be in Cubs ground Zero right before they nuked the visiting St Louis Cardinals,  we hopped on the train after tapping the turnstile with the Venture Pass and got within walking distance of Douglas park for Riot Fest.  We could have ridden bikes to Riot fest since it would have been a flat ride and was not far away and the promoters provided bicycle parking.  The next day we took the bus there.

Millennium Park

Colin circled in pink in the middle.  Me circled at bottom left.  Chrome blob.

Train outta Wrigleyville.

Two great days in the Windy City.  After Queens of the Stone Age we left Riot Fest and returned to Todd's place in Pilsen.  Exhausted from the show and facing an very, very early flight I suggested that Todd take me to the train station so I could catch the Blue Line and ride it to its end point, O'Hare Airport.  No sense in catching 3 hours of sleep and then go.  Just go now and I'll sleep in the airport and everyone else can sleep in longer.  One problem, not enough seats on the non-controlled side of TSA screening and screening does not open until 330 am.  Once they opened and I was stripped of shoes, emptied my pockets, detected for metal and patted down I got to my gate, plugged my phone in and slept until boarding.


On my own.  Colin was an excellent guide but he did not accompany me across the continent.  The woman next to me told another passenger that LA lacks good mass transit and that Uber of Lyft were the best options for getting around.  She then turned to me and asked if I agreed.  Sorry, not a resident.  I was planning to Lyft however I found bus info at the terminal.  For $8 I could take Flayaway shuttle service to withing 2 miles of my destination and be able to take it again to LAX as early as 515 am for another $8.  Cheaper than taxi or ride share.  Taking the bus from the airport to Hollywood,,,there's a country song in this somewhere.

The first thing that hit me as I walked to my hostel on the Walk of Fame was how filthy the streets and sidewalks are.  Maybe the lack of rain.  Maybe the endless throngs of tourists.  Maybe the city is broke.  Maybe they don't care.  I'd like to go back with a power washer.

Yes Virginia, there are bicycle lanes and routes in Los Angeles.  This one is in Hollywood.
I like the bicycle sign above the street sign.

One of the first bikes I saw.  Nice commuter.  I wonder if fenders are really needed in LA?
A Hollywood sharrow on a filthy street.
Broken bike rack hidden in a shopping complex on Hollywood Blvd behind the 24 hour Subway.

LA is not known for its bicycling.  This is a car-centric city.  People get killed riding bikes here.  I remember a few years ago someone organized a bicycle ride to some awards show.  I have a friend here that says people cannot commute on bicycle here without seriously risking their lives.  There are bike routes and shared roads marked by sharrows, MTB trails and paths throughout the city.  Santa Monica has a wonderful 20 mile trail called The Strand.  But alas, this is for touring not commuting.  Bicycles just a entertainment piece not a transportation device.

Sidewalks are not a viable option either.  Trees that are not palm trees destroy them it appears.

Such a shame and I am calling the State of California out.  Their political and environmental sanctimonious stands mean nothing when they are forever happily embedded in car culture. But as I said, they do have bicycle routes and share roads and a bicycle sharing program although I only saw one on my way back to LAX.

Not only is the city exclusively set up for cars but the drivers are very dangerous themselves.  My friend John-Henry explains,

 "People in the area do act like they have a force field around them... 
I lived in LA for 3 years, so I can drive like they do in many ways, but people from Hollywood take more risks than anyone I know, and act like they are driving normal."
More words from Curbed LA on bicycling in LA in general and LA's bike share program Metro Bike Share

"Riding a bike in Los Angeles is often viewed as a fringe activity rather than a viable mode of transportation. But it's exactly this norm that Metro wants to change as it expands bike share across LA."

Thus until the transportation paradigm changes bicycling in LA will remain a freak show or the domain of playing with toys, the bicycle as a toy not transportation.

What I saw

I saw a few bicycles chained up to parking meters along Sunset Blvd.  One was a decent Giant roadie. I believe it was still there Tuesday morning when I walked back to the Flyaway shuttle stop on Vine.
I did see what most likely was a touring bike with panniers and a the rider wearing a backpack or Camelback riding west on Sunset.  The placed I stayed was on Orange Drive.  There were sharrows painted on the street.  It's a long and sometimes steep hill.  Sunset marks the end of LA's flatland and by Franklin the hills are really established.  I saw a few people riding up Orange Dr and a bike, albeit missing a wheel, locked to a parking meter or rack near the top of that road.  Other than that mostly nondescript bikes.  Flashy cars and rugged bikes.

These two bicycles were inside the gated yard of the hostel I stayed at, Orange Drive Hostel.  I never met the owners.  On the board inside there were flyers for bicycle rentals but I think they were in bicycle friendly areas.

There were a few brave souls heading down to Hollywood on Highland Ave which is the feeder/off ramp for the 101.  A sea of cars and these cyclists fly and weave through traffic like they were born to do this.  Insane road warriors! John-Henry explains just how bad the 101 is when I commented that even the pedestrian traffic from the Hollywood Bowl after the concert was a slow mess.

"Hollywood Bowl is also the same exit a lot of people exit the strip from, and streets were designed in the 40s with a minor upgrade of the on-ramp to the 101 in the 70s? Way before traffic ever got that bad. Traffic lights are on every corner every 200 feet, with no rhyme or reason to how they change red/green, and the 101 is a mess, has to be one of the worst freeways in the nation, it is a three lane that handles the volume of a five lane freeway, not to mention it is like driving on the roller coaster, with ups and downs and sharp turns. making traffic slow down, and then the people in the area drive are insane. They swerve in traffic two lanes at time, looks like they don't even look in their mirrors or anything. I hate the 101. 
My home is 1 1/2 hours from the start of the 101, often it will take me 45 minutes to an hour just to travel another 15 miles on the 101.You honestly can't make traffic move any faster in Hollywood... actually I thought they did a great job as it wasn't the mess I thought it would be. "

Home Sweet Home Des Moines, Iowa

The Des Moines River Trail is to the left of the river.  The plane was named Maya the Jaguar.

As my ears started to explode from changing altitude and the pilot announced the final descent I looked out the window for something familiar.  At one point we flew over the Des Moines River Trail that is a mere few tenths of a mile from my house.   A little bit later I was eating at an establishment near one of our fine sidepath/bicycle/pedestrian trails.  Two cyclists were stopped at a light, bright reflective vests on a pair of touring bikes out for an evening of fun I thought.  Yeah, Des Moines, where everyone can ride a $1500 touring bicycle with $400 worth of panniers and $500 worth of generator hub lighting system to make a 20 mile round trip with a case of beer, if they can afford it.  The two cyclists reminded me of replacement soldiers fresh from boot camp in clean uniforms in some war movie.  Ready to take on the world but yet to be exposed to the horrors to come.  I wonder how long they would last on the streets of LA or Chicago? Cyclists in Des Moines and in Iowa for that matter do not know how lucky and privileged we have it here.  My 15 mile commute to work contains 13 miles of a purposely built bike/pedestrian road (trail) although not nearly wide enough for the explosion of trail users during the past decade but a safe car free road.  Des Moines is loaded with them.  Less than a half mile from my home I can get on the trail system and ride over 100 miles without riding on the streets or highways or repeating trail sections over and over and over again. The images of a cyclist on Chicago's 18th St with cheap AA powered lights and a boat anchor U-lock attached to a generic black bicycle riding through late night traffic floats in my head still.  Not in a protected bike lane, naked on the streets, baby.  He was on his way somewhere maybe because he enjoys it or cannot afford other transportation.  What ever reason, I salute him and admire his braveness.  Check your bicycle privilege.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing your observations. We've ridden Chicago's lakefront path and the one in Malibu you mention. Recreationally of course. Didn't really check much else out in either city regarding cycling.